How to Cope with Exam Failure

How to Cope with Exam Failure

The exam hall may be a distant memory as the results are posted. Your stomach churns in anticipation. Loved ones, peers and tutors join the throng.
It isn’t what you expected.
It isn’t what you hoped for.
But there are ways to cope and things you can do to ease the situation

  1. Don’t panic – there are many ways you can have another go. There may be re-sits or alternative exams to take. This is NOT the one and only chance and you are NOT the one and only person who did not pass.
  2. Don’t be dramatic – with the emotional tension around exams and expectations, there is no doubt this is a hugely emotionally charged situation. Allow yourself some emotional ‘grieving’ but don’t torture yourself. Expect to feel measures of anger, disappointment, despair or nonchalance, but move on from each stage. The time has passed-by, hindsight is great, box-up the experience and look to the future.
  3. Learn from it – so with that hindsight allowing you a fresher, more realistic perspective, can you see positive paths open to you? If you are struggling to see this by yourself then are there people you can get in touch with to help? Support from others is really important; seek it out.
  4. Try not to linger – try not to over-focus on the exam result itself. This may sound contrary, but you must have learned about a topic in some way even if the exam questions on the day didn’t go your way. You may, at the very least, know that a certain subject is NOT for you!
  5. Project – a nice tool to help you get out of any lingering feelings of failure is to think where you might be in 2 years time – so you didn’t pass an exam? What difference will that make to you in 2 years? It doesn’t mean that all hope is gone, or that you won’t be happy and successful in the future. It might mean you just have to adjust your ambitions for the time being. All is not lost.
  6. Think of inspirational others – not everyone (or anyone) get success without challenge, struggle, hardship, uncertainty. Whilst other successful people may seem as if they have not a care in the world, chances are they have had a lot of set-backs as they strive for that success. You are not unique; you are not the only person trying to learn in life. The biggest lessons are often those about you.
  7. Bounce back – turn all of that disappointment and angst into motivation for your future. You don’t want to feel this low again, so don’t let these feelings of despair happen again. This does not mean trying to learn a subject which is a miserable struggle and sitting exams again and again, but it does mean being creative with solutions, thinking broadly and freshly about your future. How else can I get where I want to go?
  8. Have a bit of fun – healthy fun at that! Do not be tempted to drown your sorrows or start in any extreme behavior or use poor coping strategies leaving you with more problems in the long run. Take a break from wallowing, thinking and planning and take comfort in being in a position to have choices and options. It could be worse……always!
  9. Enjoy simple pleasures – a nice way to relax and de-stress can often be indulging in simple pleasures. It’s a great way to re-set your mental freshness and realize there is a lot to appreciate in life. A simple pleasure might just be taking your dog for a walk, getting up early one morning and watching the sunrise, lying on a beach listening to the waves. Best of all, these simple pleasures are free, and all around.
  10. You are not a failure – remember you are not defined by an exam, or any one thing in your life. It is all too easy to consider yourself a failure based on limited evidence and possibly, pressure from others. This is nonsense, don’t fall into negative thinking. You did not pass this exam does NOT mean you are a lesser, or changed, person.
  11. Focus on Others – treat others, during this difficult episode, with respect and dignity and you will end up feeling more dignified and respected! Tutors should be thanked for their help. Family may be given small tokens of appreciation if they have supported you. Say a simple thank you; the result or grade does not diminish OR increase their efforts.
  12. Remain Ambitious – above all, don’t shy away from success in the future, don’t give up on every hope and dream, and don’t be scared of tests and exams yet to come. As time goes by, you change, life changes and whatever the future may hold, you have learned how to cope with things when they don’t go to plan. This is a success in itself. A lesson and a test which can only be learned the hard way. Have courage and take strength from you survival.

Don’t forget, famous, successful people who have not always found exams and academic life easy include movie star Harrison Ford, British Wartime Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, classic scientist and writer Charles Darwin, and even Albert Einstein. That is not a ‘bad crowd’ to be in now, is it?

Written by Cathy B.

Cathy is mother to 2 young children and lives and works next to the sea in Scotland.